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Opinions of Saturday, 27 October 2018

Columnist: Michael Creg Afful

One year on after Atomic Junction gas explosion: What has NPA's stringent measures achieved?

CEO of the NPA, Hassan Tampuli CEO of the NPA, Hassan Tampuli

It was exactly a year ago on Sunday, October 7, 2018, when the country was thrown into a state of mourning after the gas explosion at the Atomic Junction.

Seven human lives were lost, including a staff member of Kencity Media Limited-Oman FM and Net2 TV-Mohammed Ashley. He was a very hardworking cameraman.

Mohammed dashed to the scene to live shots for Net2 TV, when he heard of the explosion, nonetheless, he lost his life. May the souls of the seven deceased persons rest in peace!

Aside the number of people who died, 132 people suffered various degree of injuries due to the stampede that occurred as a result of the explosion.

I gathered from sources that the explosion was so intense and uncontrollable and the flames travelled fast that legions of people had to run, as fast as their legs could carry them, towards Adenta. To God be the glory that though Ghana sadly recorded casualties and injuries, the numbers did not stretch our grief to its elastic.

Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, who was on a trip to the Northern Region, had to cut short his trip to lead a delegation of government officials including the former Energy Minister, Boakye Agyarko, and Chief Executive Officer of National Petroleum Authority (NPA), to visit the scene and also commiserate with the injured on their sick beds.

We have witnessed several incidences of gas explosions in the country, and in my view, the Atomic Junction gas explosion was the last straw that has called for reforms in the downstream petroleum sector.

The catastrophe generated debates and there were calls from interest groups, civil society organisations and individuals for government to introduce measures to prevent such occurrences, and also, ensure public safety.

Therefore, on October 12, 2017, a week after the gas explosion, Cabinet met, after which government announced a number of measures to deal with the situation, and key among them was for the NPA to lead in the implementation of proposed Cylinder Re-circulation Model.

The policy, as being explained by the NPA, sought to ensure that Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) bottling plants were established far away from residential areas, as it is the practice in countries like Peru, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and India. The existing LPG outlets would then be converted into distribution points, where customers could go with their empty cylinders and pick an already filled bottle.

As I stated earlier, the NPA was directed to introduce some measures as part of efforts to curb the incidence of fuel explosions in the country, and so since we know of the cylinder recirculation which is the lead policy direction, let us now focus on the other steps the NPA took, and examine whether or not they have yielded positive results.

National Petroleum Safety Campaign

To first deal with the situation, the NPA, in November-a month after the Atomic gas explosion-launched a National Petroleum Safety Week under the theme: 'People Safety First' at the Fiesta Royal Hotel in Accra.

Fortunately, I was present at the programme and I can state for a fact that it was heavily patronized by the major players in the downstream petroleum industry.

Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia was billed to speak at the programme, unfortunately, equally important programme took him elsewhere and therefore sent Prof Gyan Baffour, who is the Minister for Planning, to represent him.

The Chief Executive Officer of the NPA, Hassan Tampuli, who explained the rationale behind the petroleum safety campaign, said the campaign was intended to raise awareness for the adherence to safety protocols in the petroleum downstream industry, and to educate the public on their role in preventing fires at all petroleum installations and other locations in the country.

Mr Tampuli indicated that following the Atomic gas explosion, his outfit intensified its monitoring exercise and that out of 276 Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) filling stations inspected, 108 were found not to be in full compliance with all regulatory and technical requirements sets by the NPA.

Shutdown of non-compliance outlets

Consequently, the NPA, he said, had closed down 71 filling stations due to non-compliance with some regulatory and technical requirements.

However, 26 of the filling stations which were closed down, he explained, were later re-opened after comprehensive inspections were carried out by the Inspections and Monitoring Unit of the NPA.

A total of 114 out of the 276 LPG stations inspected by NPA were found to be in full compliance with the prescribed safety standards.

This means that 162 LPG stations were found not to be in full compliance with the prescribed safety standards.

Touching on sanctions further, Mr Tampuli emphasized that action had been taken against 108 LPG stations, and the NPA was still working to arrive at a decision on the remaining 54 stations found not to be in full compliance with all regulatory and technical requirements.

Out of the 636 registered number of refilling plants, 54 are not in operation, leaving 582 in operation.

Formation of Committee

Alhassan Tampuli announced that NPA had constituted a committee to oversee the activities of a taskforce that would undertake a comprehensive risk assessment of the existing LPG infrastructure.

According to him, the criteria for categorising the stations into low- or high-risk will include siting or location of the station.

He noted that the compatibility of the station with surrounding activities would be physically assessed to inform the ranking of the facility, and the station must also meet the required minimum safety.

He added that the facility layout and the engineering shall conform to strict standards, saying the material of construction shall be appropriate and non-combustible, with the requisite anti-fire or resistant properties.

Also, he said, facilities without the incorporation of active safety systems shall be closed down to avoid any poor containment incident.

Negligence by NPA under the previous regime

It is very pathetic how the failure of succeeding leadership of petroleum downstream regulator, National Petroleum Authority (NPA), to clamp down the wrongful siting of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinder refilling stations and other liquid filling stations, have caused the nation to lose breadwinners and properties running into millions of cedis in gas explosions.

Records available to me indicates that between 2007 and 2015, gas explosions in the country alone killed 255 people. In 2007 alone, 96 people lost their lives, and the number of injured persons from 2007 to date, is huge.

From 2007 to date, Ghana has recorded an annual gas explosion. But for the purpose of space, I want to dwell on gas explosion incident that has occurred between 2014 and 2017. Over these periods, there have been, at least, eight major gas explosion cases across the country.

In all the eight cases, six were recorded in the Greater Accra Region, and one each in Takoradi, Western Region, and Kasoa in the Central Region.

Breaking the statistics, two each of four cases were recorded in 2014 and 2015, one in 2016 and three in 2017.

Have we seen the destruction of lives and properties as a result of negligence on the part of the institution which is mandated to sanitize the downtown stream petroleum sector to ensure safety of lives and properties? I am tempted to believe that during the previous administration, management of NPA was only interested in issuing licences and enjoying its fat salaries, without monitoring and evaluating the operations of the fuel stations in the country to ensure that they were either complying with the laid down regulations or not. This, to me, is what apparently gave many of them the opportunity to do the wrong things, despite the danger their action and inactions posed to Ghanaians.

It must be emphasized that those who are being paid with the tax payers' money must justify why they should continue to enjoy the salaries we are giving them, by demonstrating to us that they are not square pegs in round holes.

In fact, there is no doubt that the current NPA boss is the best fit for the position he occupies.

Since he assumed the position as CEO of NPA, Mr Hassan Tampuli has demonstrated that he is indeed capable.

Apart from making sure that those fuel filling stations, which had been wrongfully sited are sanctioned, as well as those which had failed to adhere to safety standards, the NPA, under Hassan Tampuli's leadership, has done a lot to also save the nation from losing revenues by descending on fuel smugglers.

There are several fuel smugglers the NPA, in collaboration with the National Security, have arrested including 43 Bulk Road Vehicles and one canoe which was used for illegal activities but for lack of space, I would dwell only on the arrest in August this year which involved seventeen people.

According to the NPA, taxes on the products which the smugglers were to pay to the state amounted to GHC1.4 million.

It is also important to note that stringent measures instituted by the Authority to curb illegal activities in the downstream petroleum sector, petroleum product exports to neighboring countries have drastically reduced from 30 million litres in August 2017 to two million litres in August 2018 representing about 93% decline.

What this means is that, significant savings have been made following the significant reduction in volumes of exported products that would have been diverted invariably for personal gains at the expense of the state.

Inasmuch as I commend the CEO of NPA and his team for the good work they are doing for Ghana, I also want to challenge them to do more to rid the downstream petroleum of bad characters.

LPG marketers hail reforms

In an interview with Gabriel Kumi, who is the Vice Chairman of the LPG Marketing Companies, to seek his thoughts on how the industry is faring one year on after the Atomic Junction gas explosion, and, moreover, whether the safety measures the NPA had directed their members to institute had brought any difference in their operations. He admitted that there has been a significant improvement in safety measures, as well as how LPG is discharged at the LPG stations.

"In the past, what we did was that we kept the engines of the LPG trucks on while the LPG was being discharged into our storage tanks. But, we realized that it was one of contributory factors as far as explosions at the stations are concerned, because when the truck keeps the engine on, it generates heat and the whole atmosphere becomes charged and so when there is a little spark, it could trigger explosion.

"So what we have decided is that we have procured an independent electronic discharge pump, which we connect to the hose of the pump to the car and then put off the engine of the truck and the discharging is done safely."

According to him, between 70% and 80% of their members have, so far, procured the electronic discharging pumps.

Apart from that, Gabriel Kumi said their members are now more safety conscious, stressing that "we have improved on safety measures one year on after the incident."

He was hopeful that given the level of safety consciousness of LPG operators, there wouldn't be any gas explosion at fuel filling stations anymore.

Training of 24,000 pump attendants, operation managers

In an interview with the Chief Programmes Officer at the Environmental Protection (EPA) William Hayfron Acquah, he also explained that his outfit has introduced a number of measures to deal with gas explosion, following the Atomic Junction gas incident. He said, apart from intensifying their monitoring role, they have gone a step further to train pump attendants, line managers and operation managers of the LPG filling stations. He said the Agency noted that most of the pump attendants lacked knowledge and skills about the work they do, stressing that "this is the reason why the Atomic Junction gas explosion occurred." According to him, the training is expected to cover about 24,000 people across the country.

No explosion

It is instructive to note that since the Atomic Junction gas explosion, there hasn't been any major gas explosion in the country. This is certainly good news! There is no doubt that the stringent measures put in place by the NPA are yielding positive results. It is the hope of NPA and the downstream petroleum sector players including all Ghanaians, that there would be no more major gas explosions in the country.

By: Michael Creg Afful

Email: cregafful2016

(The writer is specialized in energy reporting)